Former Haines police officer hired as security officer for the Alaska Marine Highway

The ferry Taku sails into the Wrangell Narrows off Petersburg on its way south earlier this month. The draft summer 2014 ferry schedule keeps it sailing from Prince Rupert to northern Southeast. Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News photo.

The ferry Taku sails into the Wrangell Narrows off Petersburg. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

A former Haines Police officer with a questionable work history was recently hired by the state for a high level security position, but the state is not releasing much information about the hiring process or what it knew about his past.

Jason Joel was hired in May as the security officer for the Alaska Marine Highway System. He is the incident commander for the state ferry system in the case of a major security event. He has supervision over vessel and facility security officers. He works with the Coast Guard, Custom and Immigration and national, state and local law enforcement agencies.

In the last 26 years, Joel worked as a police officer in several departments in Florida and Alaska. He held many of those jobs less than a year. In at least three cases he agreed to resign in exchange for the departments keeping any details of his work and conduct confidential from the public and future employers.

Joel started at the Haines Police Department in 2006 and was promoted to sergeant after three years. A few months later he was demoted. Police Chief at the time, Gary Lowe, wouldn’t give a reason for the demotion.

Joel’s personnel file with the Haines Borough is confidential. The borough will only confirm it struck a deal with Joel in exchange for his resignation.

Several Haines residents confirmed to KHNS News they witnessed or experienced instances of Joel verbally harassing women, although none wanted their name used in this report. A former police dispatcher documented several instances of harassment from Joel while on the job. She said she reported the incident to the chief.

Several months after Joel left Haines, the Alaska Police Standards Council confirmed it was investigating him. In 2012 the council said it was moving ahead with a process to revoke his police certification. At that point, Joel voluntarily surrendered his certification, meaning he cannot work as a police officer anywhere in the state.

It’s not clear if the state asked about Joel’s certification during a background check.

“For the most part we really can’t get into the hiring process – that stuff is kept confidential,” Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, said. “Really what we can comment on is that he met qualifications for the position and that he’s accepted it and started working for the marine highway system.”

Woodrow says police certification isn’t a qualification for the job.

“He doesn’t need an APSC certification to perform the duties of a security officer for the marine highway system,” he said.

Woodrow also says the state can’t reveal how many applicants it had for the security officer job.

Aside from his work history, public records also show Joel filed for bankruptcy twice in 15 years. The first bankruptcy was in Florida in 1999 and few details are available. But his 2012 bankruptcy cases details nearly $80,000 in debt, not including a mortgage. Joel owes one Haines business, Lutak Lumber, more than $8,000. Owner Chip Lende says he doesn’t extend that line of credit to just anyone, but Joel held a prominent position in the community.

“When an individual when I think has been bestowed public trust because of the position they’ve been hired for we don’t expect them to abuse that when they come into the store looking for credit because we thinking they’re an honorable, trustworthy person because they’ve been hired under that pretense,” Lende said. “So when that trust is abused I think it’s a double slap in the face not just to the vendor but to the community because we’ve extended that credit based on that perceived relationship with the community for that person.”

Because the state’s hiring process is confidential, the public has no way of knowing exactly what the state knew about Joel before he became a state employee.

Joel did not respond to requests for comment.

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